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Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with NBC Meet the Press

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
July 13, 2003

RUSSERT:  Secretary Rumsfeld, welcome back to "Meet the Press."

 

RUMSFELD:  Thank you.

 

RUSSERT:  The country very much focused on Iraq.  Let me bring you and our viewers back to May 1st, when the president addressed the nation. Let's watch.

 

PRESIDENT BUSH (from videotape):  My fellow Americans, major combat operations in Iraq have ended.  In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.

 

RUSSERT:  Since that evening, 79 American soldiers have died in Iraq; 382 have been wounded or injured.  Was the president too premature in uttering those words?

 

RUMSFELD:  No.  If you  listen to the words carefully, he was very precise.  He said major combat operations had ended.  He did not say the war had ended.  He did not say there would be no one else killed.  And I can remember discussing those words with him, because they are important words.  It is true as of that moment the regime had been thrown out, not to return.  But the only major combat operation had ended -- because we're still in a war.  There's still a lot of people from the Baathist and Feyadeen Saddam regime types who are there, who are disadvantaged by the fact that their regime has been thrown out, and would like to get back.  But they are not going to succeed.

 

RUSSERT:  How organized is the resistance?

 

RUMSFELD:  There's a lot of debate in the intelligence community on that.  And I guess the short answer is I don't know.  I think it's very clear that it's coordinated in regions and areas, cities in the north particularly.  To what extent is it organized throughout the country?  I think there isn't any conviction about that yet.  We do know that there are a lot -- thousands of people, Iraqis, who had a very good deal during the Saddam Hussein regime.  They were the ones running around killing people and creating these mass graves.  They were the ones putting people in prison.  They were the ones that had all the advantages.  And they had been thrown out of office, this de-Baathification process that we are going through, where they are not allowed to participate, and we're out arresting them and putting them in jail.  So they're unhappy, and they're determined to try to do something about it.  And we are just going to have to be forceful with them.

 

RUSSERT:  Do you think that Saddam Hussein is still in Iraq?

 

RUMSFELD:  I don't know.  You have to assume he is, and you have to continue to pursue him.  And that we're doing.

 

RUSSERT:  Are we on his trail?

 

RUMSFELD:  We are working very hard at it, and until you have him you don't have him.  And until you get closure and conviction you don't have him.

 

RUSSERT:  Did we underestimate the fear factor amongst the Iraqi people, that until they are absolutely convinced Saddam Hussein is dead or captured they are going to continue to resist, or at least not cooperate?

 

RUMSFELD:  I think it's wrong, Tim, to talk about the Iraqi people as though it's a cohesive whole.  In fact the fear factor is very important in that country.  Here is a man who for 30 years was killing people -- hundreds and hundreds and tens of thousands of people, of Iraqi people he killed.  So there is fear that he might come back.  He isn't going to come back.  Let there be no doubt about that.

 

RUSSERT:  But we must find him?

 

RUMSFELD:  We do need to find him.  We do need to get closure.  And it's quite different from Osama bin Laden, for example.  The fact that he has not been found isn't causing that kind of a problem.  The fact that Saddam Hussein has not been found does cause a problem.  But there are a great many Iraqi people of course who were signing up to be policemen, signing up to go back in the army, opening schools, opening universities, opening hospitals.  And there's a lot of progress taking place on the ground.  What's important is that the leftovers, the dead-enders from that regime, are targeting our successes.  They shot someone at the university, which is the university was opened, and it bothered them that it's opened.  The schools are open.  We have a police academy training people, and they attacked the police academy.  So they are trying to target success.  And I'm afraid we are going to have to expect this to go on.  And there's even speculation that during the month of July, which is an anniversary for a lot of Baathist events, we could see an increase in the number of attacks.

 

RUSSERT:  Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator, said it's going to be a rough summer.

 

RUMSFELD:  I think that's right.  He's doing an excellent job, and General Abizaid and General Sanchez both agree with that.

 

RUSSERT:  Robert Byrd, the Democratic senator from West Virginia, said it's an urban guerrilla shooting gallery.

 

RUMSFELD:  I heard that.

 

RUSSERT:  Do you agree?

 

RUMSFELD:  Well, it is not restricted to urban areas, for one thing.  It is happening in some urban centers.  It is also happening in some non-urban areas.  Is it a shooting gallery?  Are people being shot at?  Yes.  Is it a difficult situation?  You bet.  Are more people going to be killed?  I'm afraid that's true.

 

On the other hand, the outcome is going to be a good outcome.  It's an enormously important country.  What we are doing there is important, and we are being -- we are making progress.  And the more progress we make I am afraid the more vicious these attacks will become, until the remnants of that regime have been stamped out.

 

RUSSERT:  There has been an awful lot of criticism that the Pentagon and you vastly underestimated the level of resistance and the difficulty in the occupation.  This was the New York Times back in May:  "The Bush administration is planning to withdraw most U.S. combat forces from Iraq over the next several months.  The administration does not want substantial numbers of American forces to be tied down in Iraq.  It is eager to avoid the specter of American occupation, and is hoping to shift much of the peacekeeping burden of stabilizing Iraq to other governments.  If the administration plan is carried out, the effect would be to reduce the number of Americans in Iraq from 130,000 soldiers and marines at present, to 30,000 troops or fewer by the fall."  That's just plain not going to happen.

 

RUMSFELD:  We never said it was going to happen.  I don't know who you are quoting.  You're not quoting anybody.  You're quoting a newspaper.

 

RUSSERT:  But these are senior Bush administration officials.

 

RUMSFELD:  Oh, now, Tim, come on, "senior officials" -- how many are there?  Thousands in the government.  I've never said anything like that.  No senior military person ever said anything like that.  We didn't know.  I said repeatedly that we didn't know how many forces it would take.  In fact, we now have about 147,000 U.S. troops there, and another 13,000 coalition, about 160 (thousand) total.  My guess is that that number is going to stay there for the foreseeable future.  And are we willing to increase it if necessary?  You bet.  The president said we would have as many forces as are needed for as long as they are needed, and not any longer.

 

RUSSERT:  So it may be increased?

 

RUMSFELD:  It could be increased.  Now, but let me talk about forces.  There are U.S. forces, there are coalition forces, and there are Iraqi forces.  And we are out recruiting Iraqi army and Iraqi policemen right now.  They've got something like 28,000 Iraqi policemen on the streets already, and the coalition provisional authority has plans to increase that up to I believe 60,000 in a relatively short period of time.  The army is in the process of being increased.  We have 19 countries engaged in Iraq at the present time.  Another 19 have agreed to send in forces and assistance of various types.  And another 11 countries are considering it.  So as we bring in coalition forces and increase the Iraqi forces, we have the potential for reducing some of the U.S. forces.  We are also going to have to redeploy these forces.  Some of them have been there now close to a year, and obviously we are going to want to bring some of them home.

 

RUSSERT:  Let me stay with the whole idea of planning and estimating.  This was the headline in the New York Times just on Thursday:  "Rumsfeld Doubles Estimate for Cost of Troops in Iraq."  It's now a billion dollars a week, which is double what we had predicted, or you had predicted.

 

RUMSFELD:  No, I didn't have a prediction.

 

RUSSERT:  In terms of the money allocated by the administration, it is now double what had been allocated and predicted.

 

RUMSFELD:  That's not necessarily -- I don't know that that's true.  What I know is I asked, in response to a question, What is our current burn rate?  And our current burn rate I believe is about $4 billion a month.  I have avoided consistently predicting costs.  I watched what happened in Bosnia, in Kosovo, and -- How long would you be there?  What will it cost?  And they said, Well, we'll be out by Christmas.  That was six years ago in Bosnia.  The cost, it was something like a third of what it ultimately cost.  And I said if you don't know, tell the world you don't know.  And I have consistently said we can't know, because there's so many variables.   And the idea that because some newspaper comes up with some number and then three months later says there is a different number that somebody underestimated or overestimated, I think misunderstands the actual facts.  We have been very careful about saying what we knew and what we didn't know.

 

RUSSERT:  Let me take you back to February and the question-and-answer session with you.  And here was the question:  "Army Chief of Staff General Shinseki said it would take several hundred thousand troops on the ground to secure Iraq and provide stability.  Is he wrong?

 

RUMSFELD:  What is I think reasonably certain is the idea that it would take several hundred thousand U.S. forces.  I think it's far from the mark.  It's not logical to me that it would take as many forces following the conflict as it would to win the war."

 

The fact is we now have as many forces on the ground as it took to win the war.  You suggested moments ago it may take more.  In retrospect, wasn't General Shinseki correct?

 

RUMSFELD:  Put the quote back up.

 

RUSSERT:  Sure will.

 

RUMSFELD:  He said several hundred thousand.

 

RUSSERT:  Right, troops on the ground --

 

RUMSFELD:  Troops on the ground.  He was talking about U.S. --

 

RUSSERT:  -- to secure Iraq and provide stability.

 

RUMSFELD:  The question was about U.S. servicemen.

 

RUSSERT:  It's right here:  "Take several hundred thousand troops on the ground to secure Iraq" --

 

RUMSFELD:  Right.

 

RUSSERT:  -- "and provide stability.  Is he wrong?"

 

RUMSFELD:  No --

 

RUSSERT:  Let me show your answer again, because this is important.  "What is I think reasonably certain is the idea that it would take several hundred thousand U.S. forces.  I think it's far from the mark.  It's not logical to me that it would take as many forces following the conflict as it would to win the war."

 

RUMSFELD:  Right, okay.  How does one respond to that?  First of all, General Shinseki is a fine officer.  He was pressed and pressed in a congressional hearing for an answer, and he finally answered saying that.  He said it in good faith.

 

Several hundred thousand is 300,000 and more.  That's what several hundred thousand means.  We have had a total of 148 or 50 thousand in there.  That is not several hundred thousand.

 

RUSSERT:  We have 150,000 in there.

 

RUMSFELD:  I think right now we have 147,000.  That's what I said.  That is not several hundred thousand.  That is half of several hundred thousand.  It is ten weeks after the war, less than ten weeks after the war, Tim.  Ten weeks.  Think of that.  And what do I think about what I said?  I'm comfortable with what I said.  I don't know how many it will take.  I think that several hundred thousand sounded high to me then.  It sounds high to me now.  And that's what I said.

 

RUSSERT:  But you would acknowledge it is taking as many to -- on the ground now to occupy it as it did to win the war?

 

RUMSFELD:  Ten weeks later that's true.

 

RUSSERT:  And for the foreseeable future?

 

RUMSFELD:  No.  It may be, as I said, that if we are able, and we believe we will, to increase the number of Iraqi soldiers and Iraqi policemen, and if we are able to increase the number of coalition contributions, as we believe we will -- as I just said, we have got 19 countries that are already discussing various sizes of forces they would put in.  And those forces are due to come in the September/October period -- July, August, September -- it seems to me that the numbers of U.S. forces are unlikely to go up.  Now, could they?  You bet.  If they're needed, they will be there.  But I'm quite comfortable with that, and I think that that doesn't mean that General Shinseki is wrong.

 

RUSSERT:  Let me turn to the actions of the United States Senate last Thursday.  They voted by 97 to nothing -- and I'll show you on the screen the way it was reported in the papers.  The U.S. Senate unanimously approved a measure calling on the White House to consider requesting NATO and U.N. troops in Iraq.  In a 97-to-zero vote, the senators said George W. Bush consider requesting formally and expeditiously that NATO raise a force for deployment in postwar Iraq similar to what it had done in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo.  Joseph Biden said it was time U.S. officials made up with Paris and Berlin, prime opponents of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, in order to demonstrate a measure of maturity.  "It's childish," said Biden.  Will we formally request --

 

RUMSFELD:  We did.  We already did it.

 

RUSSERT:  Formally request NATO and --

 

RUMSFELD:  We went -- Tim, the reason that was 97 to nothing was because we had already done that.

 

RUSSERT:  Formally requested?

 

RUMSFELD:  You bet.  Paul Wolfowitz went over there, I am told, in December, and requested NATO's assistance.  NATO has been involved almost from the beginning.  NATO is doing the force generation with Poland, to assist them in providing their leadership position in the stabilization forces --

 

RUSSERT:  What about France and Germany?

 

RUMSFELD:  Just a minute, just a minute -- in assisting them to provide stabilization forces.

 

Now, what is NATO?  NATO is 19 countries, plus going up to 26 soon.  At the moment there is something in excess of 15 of those 19 to 26 that are already assisting Iraq.  When someone says, "Ask NATO to do it," the implication is NATO has a standing force, and they can either decide, formally be requested, either send them in or not send them in.  That's not the case.  NATO doesn't have that type of a standing capability.  What NATO has is a number of countries that decide to do something -- and they are just agreeing now to take over the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, which is a big thing for them, and they are doing that.

 

RUSSERT:  Would you want France -- would you want France and Germany --

 

RUMSFELD:  I said yes.  I've answered that question 15 times at a Senate hearing.

 

RUSSERT:  Will they?  Will they?

 

RUMSFELD:  I don't know.  It's up to France and Germany.  Germany is just now taking over the ISAF in Afghanistan, and that's a big thing for them -- with the Dutch.  And they've agreed to stay on an additional period and transition to a NATO lead in Afghanistan.  But that idea that the United States is not asking other countries to help, or not asking for U.N. assistance. The U.N. has a man, Mr. de Mello, on the ground in Iraq working on these problems.  They have all kinds of humanitarian assistance that they are participating in.

 

RUSSERT:  But you don't want it to be -- have the U.N. take over the operation?

 

RUMSFELD:  The U.N. hasn't offered to take over.  The United States has talked to them about what they would like to do.  The French have said thus far that they are reluctant to do that.

 

RUSSERT:  Would you be interested in having the U.N. take over?

 

RUMSFELD:  I don't know what it means by "take over."  At some point I think -- they already are playing an important role, and they have to play an important role.  And we have got a large coalition of countries there.  And I think it's kind of a -- oh, I don't know what I would call it, but the idea that everyone can keep saying, Why don't they ask NATO?, or Why don't they get more countries involved? -- the State Department went out and asked 70, 80, 90 nations to assist.  We've got 19 countries already assisting.  We have another 19 countries that are agreeing to assist, and another 11 that we are talking to.  So it's a very large international coalition.

 

RUSSERT:  Let me turn to intelligence.  These are now the infamous words the president uttered on January 28th in his State of the Union Address.  Let's watch:

 

PRESIDENT BUSH (from videotape):   The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

 

RUSSERT:  The White House and now the CIA say it was a mistake to include that phrase in the speech.  Do you agree?

 

RUMSFELD:  Oh, sure, yes indeed.  George Tenet said that, the president said that.  On the other hand, the use of the word "infamous" is a little strange.  It turns out that it's technically correct what the president said, that the U.K. does -- did say that -- and still says that.  They haven't changed their mind, the United Kingdom intelligence people.

 

Now, the question isn't that.  The question is:  Should those words have been in the presidential speech?  And the president and George Tenet have agreed they should not.  It didn't rise to that standard.

 

RUSSERT:  Why?

 

RUMSFELD:  But they're not necessarily inaccurate.

 

RUSSERT:  Why weren't they taken out, or should they have been taken out?

 

RUMSFELD:  They should have been taken out because the referencing another intelligence -- another country's intelligence as opposed to your own probably, according to George Tenet and the president, believe that it would have been better not to include it.  It was not the basis for the intelligence assessment by the intelligence community with respect to the development of the nuclear programs in Iraq.  That was not critical to it at all.  In fact, it wasn't even one of the five or six things that the intelligence community listed in their National Intelligence Estimate with respect to the Iraqi nuclear program.

 

RUSSERT:  But the very next day, Mr. Secretary, this is what you said talking to the president on January 29th:  "Saddam's regime has the design for a nuclear weapon, and recently was discovered seeking significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

RUMSFELD:  And right before it, I said, as the president said; and right after it I said as the president said.  I was simply repeating what the president had said.

 

RUSSERT:  But in retrospect you should retract that comment as well, just as the president has retracted his?

 

RUMSFELD:  Exactly.  And certainly when I said, "As the president said," in my statement -- and then at the end I said, "As the president indicated," I believe.  And that's quite true.

 

RUSSERT:  When you were asked --

 

RUMSFELD:  You -- in retrospect, the president would not have said it and I would not have said it.  But the idea that that has any central role in the intelligence community's assessment of what was going on in Iraq would be a misunderstanding.

 

RUSSERT:  Well, the president was going to utter those words in October, and George Tenet interceded and took them out.  The State Department stopped him doing it in December, because they felt it was important.  Negroponte, the ambassador to the U.N., took it out.  Colin Powell wouldn't repeat it in February.

 

RUMSFELD:  Right, right.

 

RUSSERT:  This is how USA Today reported it:  "Almost a year before President Bush alleged in his State of the Union address that Iraq tried to buy uranium ore in Africa -- seeming proof of an Iraqi effort to build a nuclear bomb -- the CIA gave the White House information that raised doubts about the claim.  A cable classified 'secret' went out from the CIA to the White House Situation Room in March 2002, reporting on a visit to the African country Niger by a retired diplomat.  Further, in December 2002, a month before the president's State of the Union address, the State Department" -- as it says here -- "reference to the allegations from a white paper" were removed.  And Negroponte, as I mentioned, struck it from his presentation.  So there clearly were big discussions in the administration --

 

RUMSFELD:  Apparently.

 

RUSSERT:  -- about the accuracy.

 

RUMSFELD:  Right.

 

RUSSERT:  You weren't aware of those?

 

RUMSFELD:  What I saw was intelligence over a couple of years' period.  We knew that Iraq had acquired so-called yellow cake, and there was a good deal of discussion about -- I think the way they phrased it was "fragmentary evidence," or "fragmentary indications," of Iraq interacting with Africa on this subject.  It wasn't until ElBaradei came out publicly --

 

RUSSERT:  In March.

 

RUMSFELD:  In March, a U.N. IAEA person, and said that he felt that there was a forged document, that the intelligence community then said they agreed with ElBaradei after looking at it, at which time obviously it became clear that that fragmentary evidence may not have been right.  Whether it is or not I still don't know.  We know that the U.K. still believes it is correct.  But -- and I just simply don't know.  That's not --

 

RUSSERT:  When Senator Pryor asked you on Wednesday, "When did you know that reports about uranium coming out of Africa coming out of Africa were bogus?" -- you said, "Oh, within recent days."

 

RUMSFELD:  I should have said within recent weeks, when ElBaradei came out.

 

RUSSERT:  Back in March.

 

RUMSFELD:  Right, in March, exactly, because I am told that I was -- that after ElBaradei came out with his statement publicly, I read it, and I am told by the CIA briefer who brief me that I on that next day said, "Who is right on this?"  And they said, "We'll check."  And it was shortly thereafter that they came out with a piece of paper saying that they thought that ElBaradei was right, and --

 

RUSSERT:  The whole issue of intelligence is so important because --

 

RUMSFELD:  It is.

 

RUSSERT:  There's a theory now put forward that says the administration made the central rationale for the war disarming Saddam Hussein.  And then the administration, from the president, yourself on down, said that Saddam Hussein was reconstituting his nuclear program -- and as evidence from that, uranium from Africa, aluminum tubes, which is also questionable, the purchase of those -- and that because of that threat, that potential nuclear threat, the reconstruction of a nuclear program, that we needed a preemptive war, that we could not wait, and that if we wait for a smoking gun, it could be a mushroom cloud.  In hindsight -- in hindsight, do you wish that the administration had been more careful in its presentation?  And did you massage or hype intelligence data?

 

RUMSFELD:  I think the answer is no to both questions.  The question about the intelligence, it seems to me that it has been a very healthy discussion within the administration, where policymakers have looked at the intel and asked questions, and that's good.  You need feedback, that process.  But has it been politicized?  Certainly not.  I mean, every one of the intelligence estimates where there was a disagreement, for example on the aluminum tubes or on the cake, yellow cake, it says it right in it.  It says, "This agency thought this," "This agency thought that."  No one changed their views for any reasons.

 

Then you go back to the question -- you cast it as though it were nuclear, and as you'll recall, if you think back, the weapons of mass destruction was always chemical, biological and nuclear.  And in no instance did anyone in the administration that I know of suggested that they had a nuclear weapon.  We did believe, and do believe, that they had reconstituted their program, and at some point would have a nuclear program, if left -- a nuclear weapon -- if left alone.

 

RUSSERT:  Vice President Cheney did say on this program they have reconstituted their nuclear weapons.  Whether he misspoke or not, I will ask him next time he's here.  But he did make that phrase.  Only one time on the program he said it.  Five other times he said "program" --

 

RUMSFELD:  I'm sure he meant --

 

RUSSERT:  One time he said "weapons."

 

RUMSFELD:  I'm sure he meant programs.

 

RUSSERT:  Let me turn to the whole idea of and issue of weapons of mass destruction.  George Will, conservative commentator who supported the war, wrote this column, and let me read it to you and our viewers, because it's very important:  "Some say the war was justified even if weapons of mass destruction are not found nor their destruction explained, because the world is better off without Saddam Hussein.  Of course it is better off.  But unless one is prepared to postulate a U.S. right, perhaps even a duty, to militarily dismantle any tyranny, it is unacceptable to argue that Hussein's mass graves and torture chambers suffice as retrospective justifications for preemptive war.  Americans seem sanguine about the failure -- so far -- to validate the war's premise about the threat posed by Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.  But a long-term failure would unravel much of this president's policy and rhetoric."  If we don't find the weapons of mass destruction, will the president, will our country's credibility, be hurt severely?

 

RUMSFELD:  I think we will find them.  And why do I say that?  I say that because I have got confidence in our intelligence community and the intelligence communities in other countries.

 

RUSSERT:  In March you did say, quote, "We know where they are."

 

RUMSFELD:  The phrase was almost always "suspect sites." And the next day one would have to say where they were, not where they are, because things are movable.  And when you can take a relatively small amount of very lethal chemical or biological weapons, or capability, and move it in an hour, and I mean think of the person who went out under their rose bush in the back yard of their private home and dug up things that he had been told to bury there a decade --

 

RUSSERT:  But if we don't find --

 

RUMSFELD:  Just a minute, Tim.

 

RUSSERT:  But if we don't find them.

 

RUMSFELD:  I say we will.

 

RUSSERT:  You will?

 

RUMSFELD:  I think so. 

 

RUSSERT:  Absolutely?

 

RUMSFELD:  I believe -- I don't say absolutely.  No one can know.  Don't put words in my mouth, Tim.

 

RUSSERT:  I'm just trying to get --

 

RUMSFELD:  I believe it.  I think that the people who work in our country and the intelligence business are honest and talented. Is it perfect?  No.  Almost every month something changes.  They come in and they say, You know, we told you this last month.  This month -- and now we have some additional information from another human source or somebody else, and we now think this.  Now, does that surprise me?  No.  Do we have perfect visibility into a vicious dictatorship like that?  No.  But --

 

RUSSERT:  What happens --

 

RUMSFELD:  But in the aggregate, do we believe that they had chemical and biological weapons and a nuclear program in progress?  The answer is yes, I believe that, and I believe it will show.  We have only been in there ten weeks.

 

RUSSERT:  If the president comes forward, or you come forward in the weeks and months ahead, and says -- and say to the American people, "Iran has a nuclear weapons program, North Korea is now transferring fuel rods and reprocessing them" -- do you believe the American people will be skeptical of what the president and you are saying?  Will the world be skeptical, because your comments about the weapons of mass destruction of Saddam have to this date not been borne out?

 

RUMSFELD:  I think that it would be fair for a listener to that to make a judgment about it, and say, Well, how do I feel about that?  And I think the president understood that.  When he went to the Congress he said there's no smoking gun.  This is a difficult problem.  It is a very difficult problem for the world, because at that point where a biological or a nuclear capability is transferred to a terrorist group, or used, the penalty for the mistake, the error, the failure to act, is not 3,000 people as we lost on September 11th; it could be 30,000 or 100,000.

 

Now, how do you make those judgments?  You make them honestly and directly and forthrightly, and you tell people what you know and what you don't know.  And that's what we've done.

 

RUSSERT:  Will we allow North Korea to develop any more nuclear bombs?

 

RUMSFELD:  That's a call for not me but the president and the world.  And the president and Secretary Powell have been working with Japan, and with South Korea, and with the People's Republic of China and with Russia and demonstrated a deep concern about the fact that the North Korean nuclear program is progressing, that we do not have good visibility into what they are doing with those rods and the extent to which they are or are not reprocessing.  They have told us they have nuclear weapons.  They have also made assertions with respect to the pace at which they are reprocessing.  Some people believe what they're saying; other people don't believe what they are saying.

 

Are we going to be successful on the diplomatic path?  I hope so. I --

 

RUSSERT:  If not, would we disarm North Korea the way we tried to disarm Iraq?

 

RUMSFELD:  What we know is that North Korea as a country is one of the world's leading proliferators of ballistic missile technology; that they are engaged in drug trafficking; they are engaged in counterfeiting.  They are a vicious, repressive dictatorship, and they have a nuclear program and say they have nuclear weapons.  They would undoubtedly sell those weapons or sell the fissile material, if they felt it was in their interests.

 

RUSSERT:  More dangerous than Saddam Hussein.

 

RUMSFELD:  I wouldn't say that.

 

RUSSERT:  Well, they have nuclear bombs.

 

RUMSFELD:  There's a difference.  Saddam Hussein had violated 17 U.N. resolutions.  The idea that the reason we went to war in Iraq was as you stated it I think is not fully correct.  The position of Iraq was that they were in violation of 17 U.N. resolutions, and submitted a fraudulent declaration as to what was going on with respect to nuclear, biological and chemical weapons by everybody's assessment.

 

RUSSERT:  But the basis by which the president and you approached the country on a regular basis was to disarm Saddam Hussein.  But that's a subject for a --

 

RUMSFELD:  That's true.  That's true.

 

RUSSERT:  Before you go, Liberia.  Will the president send troops to Liberia?  And, if so, why and what would be their mission?

 

RUMSFELD:  I don't know what he'll do.  I have not had a chance to visit with him since he returned very recently from Africa.  There is a humanitarian assessment team that is on the scene.  There is also a military assessment team that is looking at the ECOWAS, the Eastern (sic) African countries' military capabilities.  And at some point those assessment teams will come back and make -- correction, they won't make a recommendation -- they'll make a report to the president as to what their assessment of the situation is, both from a humanitarian standpoint in Monrovia, and also from a standpoint of how capable are those African nation forces that conceivably could serve as a peacekeeping effort in that country?  That's up ahead of us.

 

            MR. RUSSERT:  And that's what you think the president will decide within the next week?

 

RUMSFELD:  I have no idea when the president will decide it.  It will depend entirely on when the assessments come in and what they look like, and whether --

 

RUSSERT:  Are you comfortable with sending American troops to Liberia, if that's the decision?

 

RUMSFELD:  Needless to say, one doesn't want to send American troops anywhere, if you can avoid it.  It's a matter for the president to decide, and to the extent he makes a decision like that, then obviously we would do our level best to fulfill it.

RUSSERT:  Mr. Secretary, as always, we thank you very much for your views.

 

RUMSFELD:  Thank you.

 

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